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← Science can answer moral questions

SilentMike's Avatar Jump to comment 98 by SilentMike

86. Comment #471519 by Jos Gibbons
93. Comment #471635 by nother person

I'm clustering my response to both of you because you made some of the same points.

What I'm trying to say is something that Sam Harris seemed to have side-stepped. It isn't that science doesn't have anything to say about Morality. It has plenty to say. Science explores the real world and it is the real world that morality applies to. It is also the real world that the moral impulse comes from. The reason that we are even here discussing these ideas is that we have the kind of real physical brains predisposed to think in moral terms.

However, when trying to actually figure out what is moral, you get into a bit of a bind. If you look at what is out there, then it's just what already exists, and it is meaningless to ascribe to it moral value. That's the naturalistic fallacy. When you are exploring morality you make two assumptions. The first is that people have choices. The second is that there is a metric by which some choices are better than some alternative choices. These are both assertions about the nature of things and both don't seem to work well with the nature of the physical world. This is what the religious talk about when they complain about atheism being void of moral content.

In order to discuss morality you need to just accept choice. You need to generate a model of reality where choice is an atomic entity (while in the physical world choices of human beings are explained by brain activity). You also have to assert some moral principle to act as your guide. No matter what your principle is, it's either an assertion or based on an assertion. And this assertion is always redundant if you drop ethics. You don't need it to explain how the world is, just to give yourself a foothold to explaining how it ought be.

None of this means that I don't have ethical principles, or that I do not believe in those principles strongly. It means that I am aware of the very real fact that moral claims are fundamentally different from physical claims, and that fact about morality informs my understanding and practice of morality, as such facts should.

Tue, 23 Mar 2010 18:55:00 UTC | #451542